Keir Starmer

Keir Starmer writes for the Camden New Journal in response to the Charlie Hebdo atrocities

The warnings are everywhere. “We cannot stop every UK terror threat,” Andrew Parker, the head of MI5 said last week. 

Three attacks have been halted in the last few months. 

After the French atrocities Abu Saad al-Ansari, the leading preacher of Islamic State boasted: “We started our operations with France today, and tomorrow it will be in Britain and America and other countries.”

The time to act is now – to prepare for what is coming. 

We cannot be caught on the back foot and fumble for a response. We need a threefold reply to the threat of Islamic fundamentalism. 

Firstly we must be confident in our values and secure in our traditions. 

Britain is an open, democratic, plural society. This is our heritage and we will defend it against all that we have to face. We can do in the knowledge that this is supported by the vast majority of all our people – irrespective of their backgrounds or their religions.

Of course, our security services need to be given the means to counter the terrorist threat. 

London is particularly vulnerable, since the links between international terrorism and our city are clear.  

But there is a balance to be struck. We are not going to ditch hard-won rights in the fight against fanatics of the religious right.  

Human rights and civil liberties are not a threat to security; they define what we stand for.

Secondly, we need to build on the links that have already been forged. 

We in Camden have faced these challenges before – most recently with the terrible attacks on London in July 2005.  

Who can forget the image of the bus in Tavistock Square after it was bombed? 

Or the 52 people who died there and on the Underground, and the 700 who were left injured. 

Camden Council’s response was to give the strongest lead by uniting our diverse communities. Jane Roberts – then council leader – led the response. 

“We used the links we had built with many different faith groups: within 48 hours we had them all in the council chamber, coming together in solidarity.”

This was just the beginning. Working with the police Camden reassured communities frightened that they would be targeted. This was certainly needed: there were some ugly incidents, with stones thrown and insults on the streets. 

Many minorities were fearful of being attacked and scared to go out in public.

There was a concerted campaign to contain the anxiety across our community – to assure them that everything was being done that could possibly be done. 

Camden worked hard to let them know that they were not alone and that the authorities would stand by them.

If – or, sadly, when – the next atrocity is committed we must have these structures in place. 

We must work through our faith groups and community leaders to build a united front against the threat that we now all face. Division is our enemy and alienation will only play into the hands of the fanatics. 

I know many communities and faith groups and will work with them in the days ahead. 

This leads to the third response we need. We must build strong, resilient and diverse communities. 

We must avoid at all costs the mistakes of Paris, where the Arab and African populations are excluded from the centre by the costs of housing and forced to live in the périphérique.

The housing policies of the Thatcher government, which saw councils forced to sell off their housing stock, started a similar trend in London.

People who now service London – doing the cleaning and service jobs on which we all depend – now live on the outskirts of the city. Many have to get up at four or five every morning to make the long journeys, exhausted and scraping a living on low pay. 

Only a change in government policy can reverse this trend: allowing councils to borrow to fund the building programmes that Camden so badly needs. 

London is a great city precisely because of its diversity: and from the Bengali restaurants of Drummond Street to the Jewish Museum in Albert Street, we treasure all of our traditions.

Vigilance and unity must be our response to the atrocities in France and I will do all I can to bring this about.

Keir Starmer, Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Holborn and St. Pancras